Doing the right thing even when no one is watching, can, perhaps be taken as a definition of ethics. It is also the basis for sustainable success and happiness.
We arrived at a point of inflection in the 90’s where the invention of the internet (and therefore the inevitability that someone was watching) coincided with a moment where venal, ego driven, greed is good, success at any price appeared to go mainstream. Corruption, which had generally been the preserve of an elite, was “democratised” to a far wider population of politicians, business people, journalists, celebrities, bankers, sports stars and anyone else who had the opportunity than ever before.
Today we are living with the hangover from a get rich quick decade where thousands prospered at the expense of billions – the naughties indeed!
Although there are those who will continue to pretend it is not, the game is most definitely up. Even despots tend to be more inclusive than they used to be (there are exceptions of course).
Just as philanthropy is the new super yacht, ethics are the new CSR. There is a new moral puritanism sweeping the corporate, sporting and (hopefully) political worlds that says that “success at any price – actually is not success”.
There was a generation of athletes, business people and politicos who genuinely believed that if you did not get caught, you did nothing wrong. Cyclists who believed that if you didn’t fail a dope test, you were clean. Bankers who believed that if you got paid the bonus the loan or bet must have been OK and politicians who believed that if you made it to the end of your term, you were home free.
Q: If you die before your transgressions come out – did you get away with it?
In todays twitterverse comeuppance is swift and inevitable. Skeletons barely make it to the cupboard, carpets have been replaced with polished floors with nothing to sweep things under and elephants tend to already have been posted on YouTube, making them hard to ignore, no matter what size the room is.
The upshot of all of this is that we have to get used to doing what we are proud of – only and avoiding anything that might compromise us in the future.
Of course redesigning a culture to take account of these new realities is a stupendous challenge and yet that is the process we are in. I feel personally privileged to be part of this process. I am awed by the changes wrought in the last ten years. When I started this journey, a little over ten years ago, authentic business and leadership were a pipe dream, a fantasy and yet today they are an emerging new reality.
I have been accused of living, too much, in the future and this may be so, but I firmly see the evidence of this shift and am inspired and reassured by it.
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